Can something as simple as a printed film structure affect an entire country's consumption habits? To a degree that's the case in Canada where thermoformed/filled/sealed variety packs of shingled sliced cooked meats sold at retail stores give consumers a home meal alternative to stopping at fast food outlets.
Calgary Alberta-based meat processor and distributor Burns Meats launched three varieties of EZee Sub meats in Canada in May '95. (Burns plans to launch EZee Sub in the Western U.S. this year pushing eastward as it builds a network of brokers.)
Since the launch "retail sales have substantially exceeded our expectations" says Bernie Langlois Burns' vp of sales and marketing. Beyond boosting the company's sales EZee Sub has helped its retail customers recoup some of the market share it lost in recent years to popular fast food submarine sandwich restaurants. Stores merchandise the sliced meat packs within a self-contained display case that includes racks for rolls condiments and vegetables used to make a sub sandwich.
Langlois attributes much of EZee Sub's success to the films that Burns uses to package the sliced meats both of which are supplied by Curwood (Oshkosh WI). An approximately 3.5-mil structure is used for the bottom forming web. It includes Curwood's 3-mil EZ Peel® sealant a three-layer coextrusion of DuPont's (Wilmington DE) Surlyn®/modified ethylene vinyl acetate/ polyethylene. This structure is adhesive-laminated to a 0.48-mil polyvinylidene chloride-coated layer of polyester. The sealant layer makes it easy for the consumer to peel open the package from a corner as directed by graphics. The structure also helps prevent film curling.
The approximately 2.5-mil top sealing web comprises a 2-mil coextrusion of Surlyn and PE that's laminated to 0.48-mil PVDC-coated polyester printed flexographically by Curwood in eight colors. Burns uses both Multivac (Kansas City MO) and Kempten Germany-based Dixie Union tf/f/s equipment the latter represented in the U.S. by Robert Reiser & Co. (Canton MA).
While the intermittent-motion machines are capable of higher speeds Burns operates at approximately 10 cycle/min rates. Operators manually load product into the two-up thermoformed bottom web. After filling the top web unwinds. Complete vacuum is drawn to remove oxygen just prior to heat-sealing the top web to the forming web. Output averages 20 packs/min per machine. Burns also uses the equipment for other products.
Depending on the specific EZee Sub variety the printed lidding is coded with a "best before date" that ranges from 49 to 75 days from date of packaging. Once opened the consumer can store unused product in another bag or container since the film is not resealable.
Burns test-marketed sub sandwich meats in Ontario and Western Canada during an eight-month period between 1994-95. For the test Burns used a hand-applied a label with simple red and yellow graphics that read "submarine slices."
For the national rollout Langlois says "we upgraded the graphics with a six-color adhesive-acetate label that 'clearly' showed a submarine bun with lettuce tomato and cheese superimposed vertically to overlap horizontally shingled meats."
While he praises that label's quality and graphic appeal Langlois admits "they were too large for an automatic label applicator. With the speed of one of our thermoform/fill/seal machines label application required two people at the back end of the machine."
In an attempt to reduce its material and labor costs Burns sought an alternative decorating method. It switched to the printed film structure last September. "The Curwood film not only meets our graphic requirements but by eliminating the label it enabled us to reduce material and labor costs by about 50 percent" Langlois estimates.
Burns has expanded from the three original EZee Sub offerings to seven varieties some with both meat and cheese in 375- and 250-gram pack sizes. "We developed the sizes to meet certain line price points for the retailer" says Langlois. "On the front of each package we have printed information that tells the consumer how many six- or eight-inch subs the pack makes. That way the consumer can quickly calculate the cost per sub and realize its economic value."
Noting the popularity of sauces applied to sandwiches by fast food outlets Burns decided to introduce an EZee Sub Sauce to accompany its nationwide sandwich meat rollout. Three sauce varieties are now contract-packaged in high-density polyethylene squirt dispensing bottles with a colorful sleeve label and closure completing the package.
"The acid test of any product is its performance at the store level" states Langlois. "In our sliced cooked meats category there are 530 different stockkeeping units with the top 40 accounting for the majority of sales. We're pleased to report that the EZee sub ranked among the top 15 in the last Nielsen reporting period."